Historical perspectives

historical perspectives

One important challenge for VCE History students is working with different historical perspectives and interpretations. Revolutions are broad, divisive and tumultuous events. They involve entire populations, significant events and considerable upheaval. They affect thousands or even millions of people from different classes, backgrounds, regions, religions and ethnic groups. Revolutions tear apart the fabric of a society and shape the way people think. They create new political divisions and widen existing ones. They lead some people to question the status quo and others to defend it. Revolutionaries want to shape the future but they do not always agree on how it should be done or what form it should take. Revolutionary policies improve the lives of some, while leaving others no better or even worse off. In the end, a revolution is many different things to many different people. There is no common story or experience of a revolution but a multiplicity of stories and viewpoints.

In the context of the History (Revolutions) course, historical perspectives refer to these different views, ideas and experiences. Historical perspectives belong only to contemporary figures – that is, those who lived through the revolution and experienced it first hand. You should be aware of different perspectives as you study both your revolutions. Understand that any significant issue, event or idea will involve numerous different perspectives. When examining a primary source, such as a document or an image, think about whose perspectives are being represented and whose are being ignored, misrepresented or demonised. When studying a new reform, policy or law, consider whose interests it serves and whose it fails. Thinking about these different viewpoints and voices will give you a fuller understanding of your revolutions. Remember that no change or action is good for everyone or enjoys total support; there are always alternative or dissenting perspectives.

The following table contains some different historical perspectives for each of the four revolutions. These lists are not exhaustive but they are the most common perspectives you should consider:

Historical perspectives for VCE History (Revolutions)
American Revolution Area of Study One
British perspectives (e.g. Tories, Whigs)
French perspectives
American Loyalists (e.g. Thomas Hutchinson)
Colonial merchants (e.g. John Hancock)
Colonial radicals (e.g. Samuel Adams, Sons of Liberty)
Advocates of independence (e.g. Paine, John Adams)
Those favouring conciliation with Britain (e.g. Dickinson)
Area of Study Two
American Loyalists
Continental Army soldiers (e.g. Joseph Plumb Martin)
Foreign volunteers (e.g. Lafayette, von Steuben)
Women (e.g. Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren)
The Shays’ rebels
Philadelphia delegates from large and small states
Federalists (e.g. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison)
Anti-Federalists (e.g. Patrick Henry)
French Revolution Area of Study One
Bourbons and royalists (e.g. Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette)
The Catholic high clergy
Enlightenment philosophes (e.g. Voltaire, Rousseau)
Liberal nobility (e.g. Lafayette, duc d’Orleans)
Salonierres (e.g. Madame Necker)
Third Estate deputies to the Estates General
Parisian workers and civilians
French peasants
Area of Study Two
Constitutional monarchists (e.g. Barnave)
Moderate republicans (e.g. Brissot)
Radical republicans (e.g. Danton)
Girondins (e.g. Brissot, Roland)
Jacobins (e.g. Robespierre)
Parisian sans culottes
Vendean peasants and rebels
Foreign powers (e.g. Britain, Austria)
Thermidorian leaders
Russian Revolution Area of Study One
Tsar Nicholas and his inner circle
Far-right tsarists (e.g. Black Hundred)
Moderate tsarists (e.g. Sergei Witte)
Political liberals (e.g. Kadets)
Bolsheviks (e.g. Lenin)
Non-Bolshevik socialists (e.g. SRs)
Russian labourers (e.g. Putilov steel workers)
Russian peasants
Russian soldiers in World War I
Area of Study Two
Bolshevik leadership in 1917
Non-Bolsheviks in the Constituent Assembly (e.g. SRs)
Bolshevik perspectives on Brest-Litovsk
Leaders/sections of the White armies
Peasant or nationalist rebels (e.g. Antonov)
The Left SRs (e.g. Spiridonova)
The Workers’ Opposition (e.g. Kollontai)
The Kronstadt rebels
Internal party perspectives on the New Economic Policy (NEP)
Chinese Revolution Area of Study One
Early republicans (e.g. Sun Yat-sen)
Royalist reactionaries (e.g. Yuan Shikai)
Warlords (e.g. Cao Kun)
Guomindang right-wing (e.g. Jiang Jieshi)
Guomindang left-wing (e.g. Wang Jingwei)
Students of the May Fourth movement
Members of the New Life movements
Founding members of the Chinese Communist Party
Moscow and the Comintern
The 28 Bolsheviks
Mao Zedong and his followers
Participants on the Long March
Area of Study Two
Communist leaders (e.g. Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai)
Peasants and landlords during fanshen
Hundred Flowers letter writers
Critics of Great Leap Forward (e.g. Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping)
Lei Feng
Cultural Revolution advocates (e.g. Red Guards)
The rusticants or ‘sent down’ generation
‘Scar literature’ authors (e.g. Jung Chang, Li Cunxin)
The ‘Gang of Four’

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